Putting a Spell on You
Notorious rock ‘n’ roller Screamin’ Jay Hawkins celebrated by local indie bands Saturday at HM157
By Bliss Bowen 10/25/2012
Some artists’ personas just lend themselves to the trappings of Halloween, like Rob Zombie or Marilyn Manson. Then there is Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, whose predilection for coffins and bones shaped his image and inspired a tribute to him this Saturday at HM157.
The Cleveland-raised entertainer’s early dreams of opera stardom eventually gave way to hollering the blues. “I Put a Spell on You,” in 1956, which was banned by numerous radio stations, was his signature hit. Packed with grunts, raps and snorts, it is raw as only a track recorded by an utterly drunk band can be. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame later enshrined it in its list of “Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.”
Hawkins subsequently scored lesser hits like “Alligator Wine” and the controversial “Constipation Blues” (which prompted the addition of a toilet to his stage props), and developed a small cinematic side career after Jim Jarmusch cast him in 1983’s “Stranger Than Paradise.” In his later years he settled in Paris, where he died at age 70 in 2000. (After which he became notorious for his virility: Though he claimed to have fathered 57 children by various wives, girlfriends and groupies, as many as 75 claimed to be his offspring.)
No other song in Hawkins’ oeuvre ever achieved the commercial or cultural impact as “Spell.” When infamous deejay Alan Freed paid Hawkins to climb out of a coffin during his show, Hawkins made it the key piece of his voodoo-flavored stage shtick, which also included bones through his nose, flamboyant costumes and a cigarette-smoking skull named Henry. His macabre performances laid the groundwork for future shock rockers like Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper.
“It will be nice for these bands that know each other to do the show together,” says RT Valine, whose band RT N the 44’s will perform Saturday with friends like Tommy Santee Klaws and Fort King. “Everybody knows ‘I Put a Spell on You.’ But we’ve never performed anything else of his, so I was excited by the notion. He did some outlandish things with toilets and whatnot.” He chuckles. “We’re doing ‘Constipation Blues’ and ‘Swamp Gas.’”
Valine jokes that the customary presence of LAPD helicopters in the area should add excitement to the ambiance Saturday. HM157’s Victorian décor will be redone to resemble a graveyard, with a coffin and smoking skull onstage, and dishes named after Hawkins songs will be available (including “Alligator Wine”). Prizes will be awarded for the best costumes, so don’t play it safe when you dress up.
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins Halloween tribute show hosted by Germs drummer Don Bolles and DJ’d by Chris Guttmacher, with performances by RT N the 44’s, Tommy Santee Klaws, Speedbuggy USA, Amanda Jo Williams, Dorian Wood, Spirit Vine, Fort King, VUM, Clowns & Fetuses and more at HM157, 3110 N. Broadway, Lincoln Heights, at 8 p.m. Saturday; $10 suggested donation. Info: HM157.com